Uncle Tans Wildlife Tour Review

Early disclaimer, for a post purely about the wildlife in the jungle this one is pretty devoid of pictures! Trying to take a photo of an Orangutan hiding in a tree from 50+ metres with a Samsung Galaxy S5 really does not make for pretty  viewing.

Our next stop after Langkawi (read about our time there here and here) was Borneo! But before we made it over there we had a quick stopover in Kuala Lumpur. Whilst in KL we stayed with a family friend from back home and it was perfect to have a couple of days away from the general craziness of hostels. If you are reading thanks a million for letting us stay Emily, it was great! Whilst in KL me and Vicki had also been together for around 2 years (awwww cute I hear you say) so decided to really splash out and have dinner at the Traders Skybar. The view from the cabana seating was pretty god damn special and the food was top notch! Plus there was a fully working and used swimming pool down the middle of the bar, it’s a rather strange experience devouring a pizza whilst watching a small Asian lady swimming lengths but oh well! Backpacking is all about these new life experiences.

The view from the Traders Skybar, Kuala Lumpur
The view from the KL Skybar

Anyway, after our night of pure luxury we took a 530am flight to Sandakan, ready for our tour in the Bornean rainforest. Sandakan itself is a pretty non-descript city and we spent most of our day lounging between coffee shops and the room! On our second day we got up nice and early to take a Grab taxi to the Uncle Tan’s Ops base located in Sepilok. After dumping our bags the first order of business was the Sepilok Oragnutan Sanctuary. Uncle Tan’s do provide a free transfer to and from the Sanctuary if you are going on their tour, so arrive early people!

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

Orangutan swinging on ropes
King of the swingers!

The Orangutan is probably the most recognisable of all primates, it was also once one of the most endangered. Thanks to teams like the guys at the Sepilok sanctuary they have been rescued, nursed back to full health and given a huge area to roam around in once they are better. After paying our entrance fee we headed into the sanctuary, making a beeline straight for the feeding platform for the 1030am feeding session. On route a staff member was wandering down the boardwalk, being freely followed by an Orangutan, slouching his way down the banister literally touching distance from us. Not a bad way to start the day!

Don’t get disheartened if the feeding session doesn’t reveal too many primates. There are plenty more at the nursery!

The feeding session was interesting to see, mainly due to the huge numbers of long tailed macaques and the single female orangutan that arrived with baby still clinging to her. Watching the Orangutan trying to protect the food that was rightly hers from the macaques whilst they tried their utmost to trick and steal from her was equally upsetting and hilarious.  After the female got her fill chaos erupted as long tails descended from all angles taking the rest of the food away with them, I’m told by Vicki this is how I look when someone mentions the words free and food in the same sentence. I strongly disagree with this view!

Anyway, after eventually getting bored of the macaques we headed up to the nursery. This is where some of the younger primates are kept whilst either being taught the ‘ways of the jungle’ or simply being nursed back to health. Luckily, just as we took a seat in the viewing area they laid a load of food out in this area too. 10+ Orangutans soon filled the area, all eating and generally arsing around! Seeing them in real life was a surreal experience, made all the more surreal by not being able to get a certain set of lyrics out of me head’ “Oh I’m the king of the swingers, the jungle VIP”.

The World’s Smallest Bears

Sun bears
The little dog sized bears! Cute? Yes absoloutely

Just over the road from the Orangutan Sanctuary is a small sanctuary designated to Sun Bears. Whilst a lot smaller than it’s bigger brother over the road, both in size of sanctuary and animal it is still well worth a visit. There are a number of viewing platforms from which you can see the bears and they are really interesting to sit and watch for a little while. The staff are all really knowledgeable and will give you a hand spotting the bears if they are proving a little elusive. A lot of people have also been known to see Orangutans hanging around on the main track up to the Sun Bear sanctuary, so keep your eyes peeled on the walk.

Uncle Tan’s Day 1

Now after rambling on for just over 800 words I’ve finally got to the point of this post, Uncle Tan’s 3D2N adventure tour. After arriving back at the ops base and devouring a free lunch we were given a quick briefing before being handed our blankets and bundled into a minivan. The transfer to the pier was pretty painless, but from the minute we got on the boat things took a gigantic upturn! There were around 20 people in our group and we were split into 3 separate boat groups. We headed out in the first boat! Given that this part of the journey wasn’t meant to be an activity of any kind we weren’t expecting much, quite the opposite actually happened. Our guide spotted a wild Orangutan, a huge 4.5m crocodile, proboscis monkeys, 2 monitor lizards and a troop of silver leaf monkeys. In semi-seriousness I joked we could turn around right now and be happy enough. Eventually we made it to camp, which was certainly primitive but still comfortable. As we were a couple we simply got a double mattress on the floor of an open wooden shack draped in a mosquito net. Comfier than some hostel rooms so we were happy enough.

Vat of brown water with scoop
The rather ‘pleasant’ showers at Uncle Tans

Our first actual ‘activity’ of the tour was an evening boat safari. So after a yummy dinner considering the surroundings we headed down to the boats. Our boat driver was armed with a huge flashlight and we headed off down the river in search of life, the main target… crocodiles. On this safari we saw a leopard cat (the world’s smallest wildcat), a small toothed palm civet and loads of crocodiles. So in less than 5 hours we had seen more amazing wildlife than in the last 2 months, bring on day 2.

Uncles Tans Day 2

Sleeping at Uncle Tan’s is an interesting experience, mainly due to the huge number of barking frogs. These little fellas are completely silent all day, but the minute anybody decides they want to sleep they break into song and don’t stop until daybreak. Remember your earplugs! Our first activity today, early morning safari! A 6am wake up call was issued and we were on the boat by 630. We were told the main target this morning was the bird population and there were certainly a lot knocking around, including a few very impressive Hornbills. We also spotted what we were told at the time was a Bornean Gibbon but actually turned out to be a baby Orangutan. -1 point for our new guides wildlife knowledge. After the safari finished we had a deja vu incurring breakfast as it was identical to every other meal.

A quick game of Europe vs Malaysia 5 a side football ensued, with the teams sharing the spoils on a pretty war torn pitch. The next activity was jungle trekking. This consisted of us being driven down river and dropped at the bank before being taken on a walk around the jungle. It was mostly focused on plants and trees which in all honestly don’t interest me an awful lot, we did see a pretty cool Pygmy Squirrel however and got to chew on a few leaves. Mmmmm, grass!

Post jungle trek we had a few hours to kill before our penultimate activity, the early evening boat safari. This time we headed up river, towards the main territory of the Proboscis monkey. It was also pointed out that we may well find a flying fox, but they couldn’t guarantee it. After coming across a few troops of big nosed monkeys (honestly, if you haven’t seen a Proboscis monkey before google it right now!) we found a couple of flying foxes seemingly swooping and landing back in a tree. We all scrambled to take photos, our guide told us to be patient. We kept trying to get photos of the single bats, he kept telling us to be patient. All of a sudden seemingly every tree in the surrounding area was alive with bats, thousands upon thousands of them took to the sky and after doing a few loops over our heads flew down river. We followed the constant stream of bats for a good 10-15 minutes. The sheer numbers were mind boggling and the size of the bats themselves only made it the more impressive.

Monkeys on a log at dusk
As we sailed underneath these guys I was totally expecting one to dive down

After dinner (yep, basically the same food selection again) we had our final activity. The night safari! It almost got cancelled due to a bad patch of rain, not that anybody seemed particularly fussed by that. But off we went, flashlights in hand, exploring the jungle surrounding camp. The rain seemed to have scared off most of the animals, but we did see another civet and a few brightly coloured sleeping birds. Not an all that impressive way to end the tour, but hey ho. One of the groups claimed to have seen a scorpion which would have greatly improved the experience.

Uncle Tan’s Day 3

In all honesty the third day doesn’t really consist of anything but breakfast (same again) and the transfer back to the base camp. As much as we tried to spot life on the river home the driver seemed a lot more concerned with getting back as fast as possible rather than a leisurely cruise.

That brought us to the end of the tour, we got one more batch of free lunch back at the Ops base (need I tell you what it was) before organising our own transport back to Sandakan. In summary, over the 3 days we saw

  • Wild Orangutans (adult and baby)
  • Probiscus Monkeys
  • Silver leaf monkeys
  • Hundreds of long tailed macaques (the jungle mafia)
  • Crocs, lots and lots of crocodiles
  • Monitor Lizards
  • Hornbills
  • Eagles
  • Leopard Cat
  • Flying foxes
  • White crested babblers
  • Carpenter bees
  • Civets
  • Loads of different species of colourful, tropical birds
  • Pygmy Squirrels
  • Little billed spiderhunter
  • Loads of different butterflies
  • Stick insects



backpacking, backpacking malaysia, borneo travel


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